Bruce Leslie Home Douglas-Mann (23 June 1927 – 27 July 2000) was a
British politician. He was a Labour MP who, on joining the SDP,
alarmed its leaders by his insistence on submitting himself to a
by-election, which he lost.
Bruce Douglas-Mann was born at
Bexhill, Sussex, on June 27 1927, the son of another solicitor,
Leslie John Douglas-Mann, MC. He served in the Navy before going up
to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1948. He qualified as a solicitor in
1954. Elected a Labour councillor in north Kensington, he strove to
protect tenants, many of them immigrants, from the ruthless
evictions then rife in the area. He also became active in the
Society of Labour Lawyers, which he would chair from 1974 to 1980.
After two unsuccessful attempts to stand for Parliament, at St
Albans in 1964 and Maldon in 1966, he won North Kensington for
Labour at the general election of 1970. In the Commons he continued
to defend the rights of tenants, and to stand up for the underdog
wherever he saw injustice. In 1971 he called the plight of refugees
in East Bengal "the worst tragedy the world had known", and the next
year protested that to return Asians to Idi Amin's Uganda would be
"like sending Jews back to Hitler in the 1930s".
Labour MP for Merton, Mitcham and Morden when, in 1981, he announced
his intention of joining the newly formed Social Democratic Party.
His decision, though, to submit his change of allegiance to the test
of a by-election caused consternation among the leaders of the SDP.
This was undeniably a highly principled stand; yet neither David
Owen nor Bill Rodgers had acted in the same manner when they left
the Labour Party. There was therefore much huffing and puffing at
the top of the SDP, and complaints that Douglas-Mann was indulging
his conscience at the expense of his new party.
for his part, desperately attempted to distinguish his position from
that of Rodgers and Owen. He pointed out that he had given his local
Labour association a specific guarantee that, should he leave the
party, he would submit himself to a by-election. He had also, he
observed, changed his position on Europe; having formerly been
sceptical of the Common Market, he had now decided that the Labour
Party's policy of withdrawal would be disastrous.
leadership remained unimpressed, and when the party in Merton,
Mitcham and Morden chose Douglas-Mann as its candidate, it was
smartly informed by the national office that it had no authority to
have done so. There were rumours that that the seat had been marked
down as an opportunity for one of David Owen's protégés.
was further made clear to Douglas-Mann that he would have to raise
his own funds for the by-election, though this position was somewhat
softened when the campaign began. The poll, however, took place
early in June 1982, when Mrs Thatcher was on the point of triumph in
the Falklands. Douglas-Mann went down by more than 4,000 votes to
the Tory, Angela Rumbold - the first time since 1960 that a
governing party had gained a seat in a by-election.
Douglas-Mann had to be content with a leader in The Daily Telegraph
praising his conduct as a rare instance of honour in politics. His
eclipse was completed when he was relegated to third place at Merton
in the general election of 1983.
In 1974 boundary changes
involved the extinction of the North Kensington constituency.
Douglas-Mann, however, was elected for the Labour marginal at
Merton, Mitcham and Morden. By that time he was already complaining
that the public had lost confidence in both Tories and Labour. In
1976 he suggested that the Labour government had obtained a narrow
victory on a vote in the Commons by cheating on a pairing
arrangement, and the next year he condemned the intimidatory
activities of the pickets at Grunwick as a threat to freedom. "Get
over there," yelled infuriated Labour Left-wingers, pointing at the
Bruce Douglas-Mann married, 6 May 1955,
Helen, daughter of Edwin Tucker; they had a son and a daughter.
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